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Touched With Fire


My sister came to me a while back and asked if I’d want to do a project with her. Little did I know that it would be so important to me too…

Haeli has Bipolar. She lives every day alongside the influence of a chemical imbalance in her brain. Over the years I’ve watched her wrestle with her sense of worth, her identity in Christ, and ultimately watched her find peace with her Bipolar - working with it instead of against it.

As her little sister, I grew up watching Bipolar from the inside and from the outside. I watched kids who didn’t understand make fun of her in school, while at home she endured side effect after side effect from medical testing. For years now, her body suffers while her brain is a testing ground for new methods of chemical balance. I watch her worry and grieve over the possibility of passing it along to her children, and watch her wonder if there is a husband in existence who can handle it. I watch her battle alone the war zone that is her mind, always victorious, but not without scars.

“Moods are by nature compelling, contagious, and profoundly interpersonal, and disorders of mood alter the perceptions and behaviors not only of those who have them but also of those who are related or closely associated. Manic-depressive illness—marked as it is by extraordinary and confusing fluctuations in mood, personality, thinking, and behavior—inevitably has powerful and often painful effects on relationships.”

- Kay Redfield Jamison, Touched with Fire

Bipolar has been the setting in which our family has learned to live, love, and grow. While it has not been easy for any of us, we know that without a doubt, we are a unit that will not be broken. We know that no matter what, we will always have a place to belong. We know that ultimately, life is a privilege and a miracle that we will not ever take for granted. I'm not sorry that we've shared our home with Bipolar. After 20+ years, we don't ask it to leave, but we care for it and learn from it.

I’ve learned a lot about life from my sister. I learned how to grow up pretty fast. I learned how to speak to people sensitively. I learned how to love ALL people. I learned how to cherish joy. I learned how to harness the beauty and complexity of every moment and propel goodness forward. I’ve learned that Bipolar is not just extreme mood swings. It’s not just a burst of mania and then a burst of depression. It does not make her crazy. It does not make her a freak. It does not make her weak. It does not make her broken. It does not make her ugly. It does not make her worthless. It does not make her a statistic, or a stigma. It does not make her powerless and out of control. She did not choose this. It does not make her a slave to a disease. It makes her so much more.

It takes tremendous courage to face her demons head on. It takes courage to claim her life as her own against a malicious, violent, terrifying disease. It takes compassion for her to treat her Bipolar as an equal part of her personality, and to choose to love every bit of herself. In doing that, she chooses to love her Bipolar. She chooses to remember that God is sovereign and has made her perfectly for His purposes.

Haeli has Bipolar. But oh, is she astounding. She is not just complex, she is intricate. She is not just loud, she is bold. She is not just marked, she is beautiful. She is touched by fire, and fuels her love with it. She is a warrior, and she is strong. She has Bipolar, and is fearfully and wonderfully made.

For those who don't understand Bipolar, it is real. For those who live with Bipolar, you are brave. For those whose families have been touched by Bipolar, you are lucky to see such facets of life and beauty. I praise God for His unshakable love - His ability to use manic-depression in such a way to illuminate the Kingdom through a magnificent beam of light like my sister.

When we finished taking photos, she asked me to write the caption...Well, a caption isn't big enough. As I thought through the thousands of things I could say about this, I find myself crying over each word - tears too complex to be called sadness, or joy, or any one thing. I'm crying tears of life...filled with love and touched with fire.

Haeli has Bipolar, and she is enough.

“Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum.” ― Vincent Van Gogh

St. Louis, MO, USA

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